What Happens if 23 Million Renters Are Evicted?
It’s estimated that upwards of 23 million people could be evicted. Istock photo by Bill Oxford
The clock is ticking for Americans who are struggling to pay rent amid the fall the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $600-a-week enhanced unemployment benefits created in Congress’s CARES Act runs out on July 31. The federal eviction moratorium—which protected about one quarter of American renters—expired July 24.
Many of the patchwork state and local eviction moratoriums have already ended, with more expiration dates on the horizon for others. The U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly survey of American households recently found that 26.
4 percent of Americans have either already missed a rent or mortgage payment or have little to no confidence that they will be able to pay their next month’s rent on time.
House Democrats moved to extend eviction protections and provide rental assistance when they passed a second, $3 trillion emergency relief package called the HEROES Act in May. But to date, Senate Republicans have not reciprocated.
With tens of millions of Americans work and facing their August rent bill without any support from the federal government, advocates are sounding the alarm about a looming mass eviction crisis.
In June, researchers from the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project calculated that between 19 million and 23 million renters are at risk of eviction by the end of September, barring significant new intervention by the U.S. government. [Editor’s Note: A report released Aug. 7 estimated 30 to 40 million people could be evicted by the end of the year.]
That would be eviction on a historic scale. In 2016, for example, there were about 3.
7 million eviction filings, according to the most recent data from researchers at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab (and ly just as many illegal or informal evictions on top of that).
While every renter among those tens of millions evicted in the coming months wouldn’t end up homeless, many millions would be pushed to the street, forced to seek help in already-strained affordable housing, homelessness, and health care systems.
It is hard to imagine the impact of millions of Americans falling into homelessness during a deadly pandemic. It is a crisis that feels something a disaster movie. But the more than 140,000 deaths from COVID-19 so far have shown us that real disaster can strike, especially when crisis is met with inadequate response by those in charge.
So what will happen if the worst comes to pass and upward of 23 million American renters are evicted from their homes? Shelterforce spoke with researchers, advocates, lawyers, housing economists, and rental housing industry representatives to understand what that crisis would do to evicted individuals and their families, and to shelter systems, public health, and the rental housing market.
The Spiraling Impact of Eviction
“I’m looking at this data and watching the United States careen towards the edge of this cliff and there are no guardrails,” says Emily Benfer, a Wake Forest University law professor and co-author of Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard. “We cannot stand by as millions of households are about to enter this state of complete devastation. It will take generations to recover from.”
Evictions are terrible for those who suffer through them, and not just because people are forced their homes with potentially nowhere to go. Evictions come with a whole host of negative implications for long-term health and well-being.
“It’s a downward slope to housing instability, homelessness, [and] high health care expenditures. For children especially it leads to lifelong poor health outcomes,” says Benfer.
Housing instability and homelessness lead to higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. A New York University study found evictions lead to higher utilization of emergency room services.
Because an eviction stays on your record and can make it harder to find new rental housing, people often end up moving to neighborhoods with higher poverty rates after their eviction.
That in turn can contribute to physical health problems such as respiratory disease and other chronic illnesses.
For children, eviction can be emotionally scarring. A 2013 study by sociologist and Eviction Lab founder Matthew Desmond found that children who’ve been evicted often perform worse in school and can develop chronic health problems.
The impacts of eviction are not felt evenly. Black and Latino renters are evicted disproportionately compared to white renters. Families with children are evicted at higher rates than people without children. Poor women of color are at the highest risk of eviction in the U.S.
The cascading effects of eviction often leads to homelessness. National data on how often homelessness is caused by eviction is hard to come by. But research on local and regional evictions and surveys of those evicted give a sense of the problem.
A 2018 report by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association found that of the evicted renters surveyed: 37.5 percent ended up living on the streets, 25 percent moved into shelter or transitional housing, and 25 percent moved in with family or friends.
A 2018 report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty cites research that found 12 percent of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers blame eviction for their homelessness, 14 percent of homeless residents in Santa Cruz, California, blame eviction, and 12 percent of homeless residents in San Francisco say eviction is the primary cause.
Even if just 12 percent of the 23 million people at risk of eviction end up experiencing unsheltered homelessness, it would mean 2.76 million living on the street. That of course doesn’t capture the millions more who would live with family or friends, in motels, or in other unstable housing.
That’s more than 10 times the 211,292 unsheltered homeless people the Department of Housing and Urban Development found in the entire U.S. in its 2019 Point in Time count. In total, HUD counted more than 567,000 homeless U.S.
residents in 2019, including those living in shelters and other nonpermanent housing.
The affordable housing and shelter systems were already beyond capacity before COVID-19 struck. The pandemic has pushed them closer to the brink as congregate shelters attempt to socially distance and housing providers continue to try and find homes for people amid the crisis.
“Any surge of people who don’t have a place to stay cannot be contained in the existing homeless system,” says Urban Institute researcher Samantha Batko. “People would be forced into vehicles and tents or the homeless system would have to find massive resources for more hotels.”
In the middle of a pandemic with an easily communicable virus, street homelessness is particularly dangerous because of the difficulty of social distancing and lack of hygiene access. Even for those who stay off the street by doubling up with family members or friends, social distancing is more difficult and the consequences of getting sick are amplified.
Perversely, an eviction crisis could actually have upsides for people already in the homeless and affordable housing systems. “The landlords evicting people are going to fill those units,” Batko says.
She argues that the crisis makes vouchers more appealing to landlords who opposed renting to voucher holders in the past.
Batko says she heard anecdotes from service providers who’d found greater success finding housing for renters with vouchers in the early days of the pandemic than they had previously.
“In March and April, landlords that previously didn’t want to take vouchers or other rental assistance all of a sudden were open to it because it was a guarantee for rent,” she explains.
Whether every landlord is able to hang on to their property through an eviction crisis remains an open question, however. Mom and pop landlords who manage a few units are particularly vulnerable when it comes to weathering a lack of rental income. Those can often be the landlords more willing to rent at below-market rates who create the unsubsidized affordable housing market.
“The worst-case scenario [of evictions] is ruinous,” says Paula Cino, National Multifamily Housing Council’s vice president of construction, development, and land use policy.
“No question there’s tremendous vulnerability in [the mom and pop landlord] segment in particular. But it’s difficult to identify by size which landlord could face distress.
I think all parts of industry are going to face distress.”
Matthew Gardner, Windermere Real Estate’s chief economist is confident the big, corporate rental housing players will be just fine.
The smaller landlords are at a much greater risk, but even there, Gardner thinks the mortgage forbearance program created by the CARES Act is going a long way toward helping homeowners avoid foreclosure.
With forbearance, homeowners were able to delay mortgage payments for three months. Those who can prove COVID-related financial hardship can apply for another 12 months of reprieve.
It is in large part because of the forbearance program that Gardner does not think we’re heading for a repeat of the 2008 foreclosure crisis. “Everyone asks me if I’m worried about ownership housing,” he says. “No, I am worried about renters. … Anyone expecting a huge fall- foreclosures. I just don’t see it.”
Given the spike in unemployment and threat of lost homes, the Great Recession seems the obvious comparison to the moment we’re living through. But today’s crisis has already surpassed the fallout from the foreclosure crisis in some ways and still has the potential to be far more devastating.
Unemployment during the Great Recession peaked at 10 percent. Nearly 10 million people lost their homes to foreclosure between 2006 and 2014. But homelessness remained nearly flat between 2009 and 2011.
The reason is, in part, that President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, included $1.
5 billion for local communities to keep people housed or rapidly fund new rentals for those who lost their homes.
The Great Depression is a more apt analogy for the crisis America now faces. It was then when unemployment hit 25 percent.
There was no annual accounting of homelessness in the 1930s, but an article in the Journal of Urban History cites a three-day census taken by the Roosevelt administration in 1933 that found 1.5 million Americans were homeless. Many of those 1.
5 million lived in the hundreds of Hoovervilles that dotted the country—the makeshift shanty towns named as a dark acknowledgment of President Herbert Hoover’s failure to intervene in the crisis.
It’s Not Too Late
Though an unprecedented eviction crisis looms on the horizon, it is not a foregone conclusion.
“It’s really, really not too late,” says Zach Neumann, head of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project and co-author of the Aspen Institute eviction report.
“If Congress is able to extend federally enhanced unemployment benefits or get money in the hands of tenants, they will be able to pay their rent, they will be able to stabilize themselves through the late summer and fall, and we can avoid a really significant chunk of the crisis we’re outlining in the report.”
Advocates have been lobbying the Senate for months to take up the House’s HEROES Act and provide a massive relief package to keep renters housed, expand temporary, emergency housing capacity, and more.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is calling for at least $100 billion in rent relief funding, which has garnered broad support among affordable housing advocates and landlord groups the National Multifamily Housing Council.
NLIHC is also asking the Senate to include a uniform national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and at least $11.5 billion to address existing homelessness.
One hundred billion is an eye-popping figure. But inaction isn’t a cost-saving measure.
The University of Arizona law school’s Innovation for Justice program created a cost of eviction calculator that models how much it costs a community in increased emergency shelter, inpatient and emergency medical care, child welfare services, and juvenile delinquency for each person evicted.
For the worst-case scenario of 23 million evictions, it calculates a nationwide, one-year cost of $128.7 billion. Innovation for Justice Program Manager Mackenzie Pish says the model doesn’t include the costs of increased mental health services or policing, so their calculation is ly on the low side.
“Homelessness is not natural,” says Eviction Lab’s Alieza Durana. “It is a choice we are making as a society and we can choose differently. We are a wealthy nation, we have the ability to support people in our community especially when they fall on hard times.
In the months since the House passed the HEROES Act, states and cities have continued piecing together or extending their own moratoriums, along with rent relief programs paid for by philanthropic dollars, CARES Act funding, and even state and local general funds. But those local and state programs have not been able to keep up with demand. “Only the federal government has the resources to provide rental assistance at the scale it is needed,” says Andrew Aurand, NLIHC’s vice president for research.
More than two months after the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, the Senate is finally taking action on a second relief bill. Their $1 trillion proposal is reported to include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and a reduction in the size of the weekly enhanced unemployment payments.
According to NLIHC, it is still “possible, but unly” that Republicans will include rent relief in their package. In an emailed statement, NLIHC writes “That’s why we’re working with all of our state and local members to urge their representatives and senators to prioritize emergency rental assistance and other resources and protections.
… Each day that Congress waits to enact emergency rental assistance puts more people with the lowest incomes at risk of evictions and homelessness.”
If Republicans refuse to make the sort of deep investments affordable housing, homeless, and rental industry advocates are calling for, the only question that remains is whether America’s newly homeless will call their encampments Trumptowns or McConnellvilles.
Renters In Georgia Fear Eviction As Moratorium Ends
Thousands of Georgians, already struggling before the pandemic, are facing homelessness now that the eviction moratorium is coming to an end. Landlords, meanwhile, worry about meeting mortgage payments as rental assistance programs scramble to keep ahead of evictions.
The reprieve had been extended to Oct. 3, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling lifted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s second nationwide moratorium last week. The action ripped through the community of renters, landlords, magistrates and organizations trying to help with the housing crisis.
“It’s imperative that we don’t have mass evictions, and there’s already a lot of people that are sort of slipping through the cracks,” said Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance program offers financial relief for tenants affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but renters and activists say that the process does not move quickly enough to keep up with the speed of evictions in Georgia.
The moratorium prohibited landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent if they submitted a declaration form meeting the guidelines defined by the CDC to their landlord, but did not stop the court eviction process from occurring without the declaration.
The U.S. Census Household Pulse survey shows that about 100,000 Georgians are among the 4.6 million Americans ly to face eviction or foreclosure within the next two months.
Usually, there are only about 900,000 evictions nationwide during a typical year, Dunn said.
The U.S. Treasury has allotted $552 million in rental assistance to Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Households can receive up to 15 months of prior rental assistance and three months of future assistance under the state program without a dollar cap, said Deputy Commissioner Tonya Curry.
Counties and cities with more than 200,000 citizens received the majority of the funds, which came directly from the Treasury, and set up their own programs for rental assistance funding, while the remaining jurisdictions were covered by the state program. Millions are still left unused, and critics say that the bureaucratic process is blocking the distribution.
Court proceedings move quickly
Georgia’s rental assistance programs just can’t keep up with the speed that the law requires courts to go through the eviction process, said Cobb County Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy.
“When a tenant is served with an eviction action, they have to file an answer within seven days,” he said. “And the court has to have a hearing within 14 days thereafter. So that’s 21 days, from the time an eviction action is served on a tenant. Even the fastest rental assistance program in the world is not going to be able to catch up with the 21 days.”
Cobb County, one of the counties outside of the Community Affairs program, has successfully integrated on-site mediation to slow the court process, and has one of their five assistance providers available to speak with landlords and tenants at every hearing. Also, Murphy said, it has received additional funding from nonprofits.
Neighboring Cherokee County also operates its own program. But it has only one provider, MUST Ministries, to distribute government monies. Many tenants tried unsuccessfully to apply for assistance through the state program because they were unaware that county programs varied, Chief Associate Judge Gregory Douds said.
“If they applied on that website, it would just kind of go into limbo, and they had to start over by contacting MUST Ministries,” Douds said, “They thought they were in the program, and they weren’t.”
Applying proves challenging
DeKalb County landlord Yvonne Andall said that she found out about the government help while watching the news, and did not receive communication from the county directly. She worked to establish payment plans with her tenants throughout the pandemic, but none of them have used the assistance program yet.
“I told the tenants about it, but as far as me, just a landlord and taxpayer citizen, I never got anything,” Andall said. “Everybody gets a water bill in DeKalb County. Why don’t they put the notice in the water bill, or attach it to the tax bills? Why didn’t they put a little flyer in there?”
Andall said she and many other landlords have eaten up their financial reserves trying to stay afloat as tenants struggle to pay rent.
For those who depend on rent for mortgage and insurance payments, Andall said, landlords have been forced to choose between which monthly payments they will have to forgo.
“It creates a crisis,” she said. “You have to say which one don’t I pay this month? If we don’t pay the mortgage, that’s an article closure. If you don’t pay the taxes, that starts a lien. It’s a snowball effect.”
Andall said that if the rental assistance funding is going to help landlords, the process needs to be much easier. While landlords struggle financially, Andall said that tenants are struggling to complete the assistance application, due to issues with legal jargon and income verification.
Sam Gilman, a researcher and co-founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project in Colorado, said that wading through legal jargon on assistance applications is especially difficult for tenants who fear for their family’s livelihood. Gilman also pointed out that verification documents can be difficult for tenants to access quickly enough to finish their application before their eviction hearing.
“These programs were built for a world that many middle class people live in, where the documents are in a filing cabinet or in a folder in an email account, but not everybody lives that way,” said Gilman.
Tenants were already at risk
These compounding difficulties force the most vulnerable communities in Georgia to suffer, said journalist and cultural anthropologist Brian Goldstone, who writes about housing and homelessness.
“The people who are most at risk of losing their homes right now were already before the pandemic started, in many cases, one or two paychecks away from eviction and helplessness,” said Goldstone.
Goldstone pointed out that homelessness and housing insecurity in Georgia were issues prior to the COVID-19 crisis, and they went largely unseen by most Georgians. The race between government money and evictions is only exposing the issue more clearly, and Goldstone believes that it could lead to a tidal wave of mass evictions.
“At the rate we’re going and getting this money distributed, combined with of course, the landlords who are even refusing to take the money, judges who are refusing to get people the protections they legally have, you know, all of that put together — even if the fictional tidal wave doesn’t materialize, we’re still going to be back to a pre-pandemic, housing epidemic in Georgia and across the country,” he said.
Dunn agreed that the U.S. rental market was unhealthy prior to the pandemic, and worries that following the lifting of the moratorium, eviction records will cause many tenants to struggle finding places to live.
He said he hopes that the U.S.
will adopt legislation protecting tenants who were evicted for non-payment during the COVID-19 crisis, and referenced the Renter’s Access Act in Philadelphia, which prohibits landlords from denying a rental application based solely on a prior eviction, and requires that they explain to the tenant why they were denied, giving them the option to appeal the decision.
Communication is vital
In light of the speed of law and delayed access to money, Murphy said providers, landlords and tenants must establish strong communication practices in hopes of slowing the court process down while rental assistance is distributed.
Tenants say they struggle to get providers to return their calls. At a Cobb County Commission meeting in June, renter Denise Stroman asked that the moratorium be extended through the rest of the year because assistance was difficult to obtain.
“I’m thankful for the temporary assistance such as Star-C and Cobb Home Savers,” she said. “It’s just that when you apply for assistance, we’re having problems getting information back. We’ll send emails and calls, but no calls back.”
Community advocate and founder of the We Thrive in Riverside organization Monica Delancy urged her network to talk with landlords and property managers before eviction notices are served.
“That’s what my organization is doing,” she said. “Communicating, outreach and showing people how to speak up for themselves and not being afraid. Creating partnerships with your landlords, with your property managers — it’s not them over here and us over here. We’re equal because we live here.”
With the moratorium lifted, rental assistance is now the primary line of defense against mass evictions in Georgia.
Gilman, of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, said each eviction that occurs when there is money allocated to keep people in their homes is unconscionable. He said he is worried about the health of the families who will be affected.
“Every eviction is a tragedy, is a heartbreak, and really introduces a whole lot of consequences for households,” he said “It introduces intergenerational poverty, and makes it hard for kids to learn. It affects mental and physical health for everybody in the household.”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Fresh Take Georgia.